In a groundbreaking study, DNA evidence has revealed that an unsuspecting man from Tennessee may be a living descendant of an Indigenous group believed to have gone extinct. Until recently, it was widely believed that the Beothuk, an Indigenous group (Native Canadians) once thriving on the Canadian island of Newfoundland, had vanished. However, a study published in the journal Genome by researcher Steven Carr has shed light on the possibility of surviving descendants.
The History of the Beothuk
The Native Canadians inhabited the island of Newfoundland until the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s. The settlers brought diseases that devastated the Beothuk population, forcing them to retreat further inland where they struggled to adapt to their changing environment. By the time of Shanawdithit’s death from tuberculosis in 1829, the Beothuk were considered culturally extinct.
DNA Evidence Revealing Surviving Native Canadians
In April 2020, Steven Carr’s study in the journal Genome brought forth compelling DNA evidence. Carr analyzed the DNA samples of Shanawdithit’s uncle and found an “identical” match with a living person in Tennessee. This unexpected revelation raises the question of whether the genetic descendants of the Beothuk persist to this day. Carr’s analysis provides a resounding “yes.”
Possible Links of the Native Canadians to Other Indigenous Groups
For years, various Indigenous groups in Newfoundland have claimed ancestral connections to the Beothuk. Carr’s research indicates that these claims could indeed be valid. By examining the skulls of Shanawdithit’s aunt and uncle, Demasduit and Nonosabasut, as well as mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 18 native canadian individuals, Carr sought matches in the GenBank database. Surprisingly, he discovered a mitochondrial DNA match between Shanawdithit’s uncle and an unidentified man from Tennessee.
The Tennessee Man’s Reaction
The Tennessee man, previously unaware of his possible ties to the Beothuk, was shocked upon receiving this news. Despite having researched his maternal ancestry for years, he had found no indications of First Nations or Native American heritage. Intrigued, he continues to delve into his genealogy tree, eager to uncover the link between himself and the Beothuk.
Reexamining Genetic Studies on the Beothuk & Native Canadians
Carr’s research also revisited a previous genetic study on the Native Canadians, which had concluded that there was no significant genetic relationship between the Beothuk and two other Indigenous groups in Newfoundland—the Maritime Archaic and the Palaeoeskimo. The Maritime Archaic settled on the island approximately 8,000 years ago, disappearing mysteriously about 3,400 years ago. The Palaeoeskimo, who overlapped with both the Maritime Archaic and the Beothuk, occupied the land from about 3,800 to 1,000 years ago.
Carr’s findings revealed that while the Beothuk and the Maritime Archaic were not closely related, they shared ancestry with a modern Canadian individual named Ojibwe. This suggests that the Beothuk’s genes can be traced back to ancestral Indigenous peoples in more central regions of Canada.
Limitations and Cautionary Note
Despite the significance of this study, it is essential to acknowledge its limitations. The sample size of available DNA and the complexity of genomic analysis can impact results. As the technology evolves rapidly, future studies may yield different outcomes. Furthermore, it is crucial to remain mindful of individuals who may exploit potential genetic claims to Indigenous heritage for personal gain.
Collaboration with the Mi’kmaq First Nation
To further explore the connection between the Beothuk and other Indigenous groups, Steven Carr will continue collaborating with the Mi’kmaq First Nation in Canada. Given their overlapping history and geography with the Beothuk, this partnership aims to determine whether the two groups share close ancestral ties.
The Beothuk were an Indigenous group that once inhabited the Canadian island of Newfoundland until their cultural extinction.
Through DNA analysis, researchers discovered a mitochondrial DNA match between the Tennessee man and Shanawdithit’s uncle, indicating a possible ancestral link.
Yes, various Indigenous groups in Newfoundland have long asserted ancestral connections to the Beothuk, and Carr’s research supports these claims.
While the Beothuk and the Maritime Archaic were not closely related, they shared ancestry with a modern Canadian individual named Ojibwe.